319th Fighter Squadron

319th Fighter Squadron

Activation to Combat

The 319th Fighter Squadron was activated, on 3 August 1942, at Hartford, Connecticut. One hundred and seventy-eight enlisted men were transferred from the 87th Fighter Squadron and placed under the command of Captain Lawrence E. Oldham, the only commissioned officer in this nucleus. On 26 August, Major Robert L. Baseler took over the command, which grew until, by 5 October, when the squadron moved to Hillsgrove, Rhode Island, it numbered twenty-nine officers and three hundred and twelve enlisted men.

Training operations went forward, for the pilots and ground crews, while the squadron’s strength reached its required number for overseas duty. As a member of the Boston Defense Wing, the 319th flew regular patrols over the New England coast during this period. On 14 November, Major Baseler was transferred to Group Headquarters, a strong disappointment to the squadron because of his much admired qualities of leadership, in the air and as a Commanding Officer. There followed no less than three Commanding Officers for the 319th within six weeks. Captain Walter V. Radovich was succeeded by Captain James E. Tucker, on 25 November, who was in turn succeeded by Captain Everett B. Howe, on 26 December. Captain Howe remained the Squadron Commander from this date until he was shot down over southern Sardinia on 28 July 1943.

The final training period neared its completion with the end of the year and on 2 January the Flight Echelon, consisting of the twenty-seven pilots, left Hillsgrove by air to begin their long journey to Casablanca. The pilots and their P-40s boarded th carrier U.S.S. Ranger at Norfolk, Virginia on 7 January and after 23 days on the cold Atlantic they flew their small P-40s off the aircraft carrier just off the coast of North Africa.

The air echelon left on 3 January by train to West Palm Beach, Florida, and went the next day to Miami, where they split up in small groups to take the airliners to Brazil. Sixteen hours flight brought them to Georgetown, Brazil. Next day they flew to Belem and after a night there, took off for Natal. After one tour of the city, the setting of Tobacco Road was clean, by comparison. It was the Echelon’s first glimpse of such a low scale of living, old and dirty dwellings, and grime and filth of a civilized city. Five days there were quite enough and they were all glad to see the Pan American Clipper which was to carry them over the Atlantic. The trip was smooth and uneventful. After a time at Fisherman’s Lake, during which they toured several native villages, they were flown to Accra, the meeting place for the several groups of the Air Echelon. From there it was a short hop to Casablanca.

The Ground Echelon, meanwhile, composed of six officers and one hundred and eighty-eight enlisted men, with 1st Lt. Leroy W. Short as Commanding Officer, was completing its final preparations for embarkation. On 22 January they entrained for the staging area, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where they remained until 7 February. On that date they took a train to New York harbor and that evening boarded the U.S.S. Lyon for the crossing. The trip to Oran harbor took fourteen days and, while it was no pleasure cruise for the "over-the-rail" boys in that jammed transport, no enemy action disturbed its security. By truck, train and a six mile hike, in the moonlight, they reached "Mud Hill", a bivouac area with an apt name. After a week the Ground Echelon moved again to the Tafaraoui Air Base, about thirty miles from Oran. There, on the same day, 1 March, they were joined by the Air and Flight Echelons.

North Africa

The squadron remained at Tafaraoui until 9 April, training in the air and on the ground and becoming accustomed to the contrasts of African weather, the salesmanship of the Arabs, and operations under field conditions. Montesquieu, a base 3,000 feet above sea level near the Tunisian frontier by which most of the squadron was flown in C-47 transports, was only 75 miles from the northern Tunisian front or 15 or 20 minutes Messerschmitt time, and raids were a strong possibility. There the pilots quickly learned the terrain and on 17 April, the 319th flew on its first combat mission, against the Mateur Airfield. From this date, until 13 May when General Von Arnim surrendered, eleven missions were flown by our pilots, nearly all escorting medium bombers over objectives in Tunisia. Our P-40s shot down one JU-52 and one Me-109 and destroyed two more JU-52s on the ground. Numerous dive-bombing attacks in which our planes carried 500 and 1000 pound bombs destroyed enemy motor transports and shipping. We had no losses during these operations, nor were any escorted bombers lost due to enemy aerial activity.

The 319th now concentrated its attention on southern Sardinia and Pantelleria. The number of missions per week increased until, when we moved up to a new base at Souk-el-Khemis, in Tunisia, almost daily missions were in order. During the height of the air war against Pantelleria, two and even three flights a day were made, in spite of intense heat and an epidemic of diarrhea which prostrated an alarming percentage of pilots and ground personnel. A great many missions were flown in which 1000 pound bombs were carried. (No other P-40 Group in this theater had used them.) A total of over 100,000 pounds of bombs were dropped by this squadron, alone, on objectives in Tunisia and Pantelleria up to 11 June, the day the island surrendered. Our victories for total operations, thirty-eight missions, had now reached twenty-four enemy planes shot down in combat. In addition, two merchant ships were shot up and left burning, a radar vessel was sunk, two JU-52s and six German flying boats were destroyed on the ground and water. Our own losses were seven planes and six pilots. Several of these pilots are almost certainly prisoners of war. Not one escorted bomber had been lost due to enemy aerial activity.

In the operations against Sardinia and Sicily until the fall of the latter, our record was maintained. On 19 June the squadron, and Group, moved up to Mateur Airfield #2. The airfield near Mateur provided no green fields for the tent area. The ground was the same rock-hard and cracked earth we had stumbled over at El Khemis. The flies were not so bad, at first anyway, but the grasshoppers in their thousands made a meal out of anything from rifle slings to mosquito netting. Not even G.I. shoes were safe from their foraging. Scorpions were numerous also. Airfields, railroads, radar stations, ports and ground installations of all kinds were pounded by dive-bombing and shot up by strafing attacks. On a fighter sweep 22 July 1943, 319th P-40s shot down twelve enemy planes in a combat near Cagliari, Sardinia without a single loss.

On the 101st mission flown by the 325th Group the 319th lost is Commanding Officer, Major Howe. His plane was hit by flak and he was forced to bail out eight miles west of Capoterra. Circling planes saw him land safely and wave to them. Lt. Thomas B. Johnson and F/O James E. Beck, both listed as missing in action, later escaped from a German prison camp in Italy with confirmation of Major Howe’s safety. Major Howe had destroyed four enemy fighters in combat and his qualities of leadership as the squadron commander were of the same excellence as his flying skill and courage. His successor was Captain Robert W. Myers, former Operations Officer and a natural and popular choice for the duties of the Commanding Officer.

In 100 missions our Group had destroyed a total of 103 enemy planes. Forty of these were shot down by 319th pilots, whose losses were 10 pilots and twelve P-40s. Not one escorted bomber had yet been lost to enemy aerial attack. We shared also in numerous Group successes in strafing attacks on grounded aircraft and shipping. On 5 August three of our P-40s found a German submarine on the surface and strafed the black and white swastika on the conning tower until the sub exploded, up-ended and sank – a real bag for fighter aircraft.

Our record as to aerial victories and losses at the end of the Sicilian campaign, 17 August, stood as it did on organizational day two weeks before.

No one department of the squadron should be singled out for particular recognition as all departments have been uniform in the high degree of their efficiency and performance of duty. However, the maintenance record, as the one most nearly touching flying operations, should be cited. The number of aircraft in a fighter squadron which is expected to be "hot" – readied for flight at all times is 80 percent of the total. The 319th maintenance level has never fallen below 85 percent. During the Tunisian and Pantellarian air offensives, between 85 and 90 percent of all our P-40s were in constant operational condition, in spite of the fact that, during the height of the air war against Pantelleria, thirty to forty percent of the ground crews were suffering from weakening attacks of dysentery and heat prostration. During the battle for Sicily the percentage of planes which completed missions varied between 90 and 95 percent, a figure which would come very close indeed to a record for fighter aircraft anywhere.

Operations continued against Sardinia without let up but little resistance was encountered in the continual sweeps and bombing missions. On 28 August, Lt. Collins shot down his fifth Me-109 to become the first Ace in the squadron. This engagement was the only one which occurred between the fall of Sicily and the surrender of Italy, though dive-bombing missions continued until that date.

On 8 September, the day the Italian armistice was announced, Captain Harmon E. Burns succeeded Major Myers as squadron commander, the latter having completed his tour of duty. Although Italy had surrendered, it was not known which airdromes and localities remained in German hands; therefore there was no flying for nearly two weeks while the pilots and ground crews watched the news of the Salerno landing, begun on the 9th, and fretted their forced inactivity. The rumors about receiving P-47s became a reality.

Training operations were begun with the new P-47 type aircraft in October, the first P-47 having been flown to the Mateur field by Colonel Baseler on 11 October. Because of intermittent and heavy rains continually interrupting the training schedule with possibilities of planes being bogged down for an indefinite period, the squadron began its move to the Soliman A/D, the last permanent vase and in many ways the most agreeable base in Africa. The move was begun on 4 November and by 7 November training operations had been resumed.


The long awaited move to Italy was begun on 30 November when an advanced echelon left Soliman to prepare a bivouac area at Bizerte where the ground echelon was to await transportation. An air echelon, transported in C-47s, arrived at the Foggia Main Airdrome on 9 December. Meanwhile, the ground echelon personnel had been separated into two groups, one to leave Bizerte on 12 December and land at Taranto, Italy on the 17th while the remaining group was to leave Bizerte on 24 December and dock at Naples on the 27th. From their respective debarkation points these two groups completed the move to Foggia Main by train and truck.

The first P-47 mission, on 14 December, was one escorting B-17s over Corfu. Five more operations in succession were milk runs but on 30 December, twelve Me-109s were attacked near Pescara and three destroyed, two by F/O Richard L. Catlin of the 319th. On the same day the squadron moved from the main Foggia field to Celone #1, and airfield approximately 7 miles NW of the city of Foggia. It was a wet cold uncomfortable move. Our area looked like the one at Tafaraoui after the usual rain. It rained the day and night we moved up but the real storm, the worst southern Italy experienced in many years, was reserved for New Year’s eve and New Year’s morning. Although 5 tents were blown down during the night the kitchen remained intact and an excellent turkey dinner for New Year’s Day compensated in part for all the inconveniences suffered. In a few days the weather cleared and the storm was forgotten. In January 1944, Major Anthony Tirk, Jr. Group Engineering Officer, succeeded Major Burns as squadron commander. The squadron participated in thirty-two mission during the month of January, destroying 15 enemy aircraft for a loss of three P-47s.

Lt. Col. Tirk, 319th Commanding Officer, was listed as missing in action after an aerial encounter with approximately 50 enemy fighters on 11 March. He was succeeded by Major Collins, the leading Ace of the squadron, with 9 victories and 2 probables. Major Collins completed his tour of duty and left for home on 20 March and Captain Willian A. Rynne, an Ace flying with the 317th Squadron, transferred to the 319th and assumed command.

A move to the Lesina A/D began on 25 March when an advanced echelon left Celone airfield to prepare a bivouac area at the new field. The movement was completed on 29 March when the planes landed at Lesina on their return from an escort mission over Turin, Italy. The move was successfully completed without the slightest alteration of operational plans, a fact which attests clearly to the efficiency and smooth functioning of all sections of the squadron and group. Out of fourteen missions during March the squadron hung up eighteen victories for five losses – the best record in the group for the month.

On 28 March, the last mission to take off and land at the Celone A/F, the squadron suffered heavy casualties. Lieutenants A.O. Jones and Hudson and the 319th C.O., Captain Rynne, were lost to enemy action. Captain Raymond E. Hartley assumed command of the squadron.

The squadron received the new P-51 Mustangs on 15 May and began an intensive transition program while continuing to operate with P-47s. On 27 May the squadron participated in its first mission with the new type aircraft, a heavy bomber escort attacking marshalling yards in southern France.

On 2 June the squadron participated in the historic Italy-to-Russia shuttle raid. Thirteen enlisted men, crew chiefs and armorers, were transported in B-17s to Russian bases to maintain the squadron’s P-51s. One B-17, in which S/Sgt. Austin Cronin was flying, was lost to flak. Little hope was held out for him, but several minutes later it was learned that he had parachuted safely, and was a prisoner of war.

At the close of June, Captain Hartley, who had flown nearly 100 missions, returned to the States and Major John E. Perry assumed command of the squadron.

Missions were flown almost daily during July since excellent weather prevailed throughout that period. It was during this period that the Fifteenth Air Force opened a drive against the enemy’s vital oil refineries and storage facilities and the Group participated in repeated attacks against Ploesti, Brux, and Blechhammer. Five enemy aircraft in an attacking force of approximately 50 were destroyed and 3 damaged over Giurgiu, Rumania on 3 July by pilots of the 319th. The Group had another successful day on 26 July when they destroyed 13 enemy fighters over Austria. Four of the enemy aircraft destroyed were accounted for the 319th pilots.

The Group flew 27 missions during August and on only six did the enemy fighters offer resistance. On 3 August, thirty-four German fighters attempted to drive off the B-24s attacking the Manzell Aircraft Factory. Of the 10 enemy fighters destroyed without loss to the P-51s, three were credited to the 319th Squadron.

After having played such a large part in the destruction of German war industry in Central Europe, the 325th now turned its attention toward the west for the impending invasion of southern France.

For several days missions were flown against heavy gun positions defending the French coast. Just prior to the actual invasion planes of the 319th were transferred to the Tarquinia Airfield in order to provide better coverage for troop carrying C-47s which we were to escort.

Our missions were carried out successfully with no losses of either planes or personnel and the squadron moved back to Lesina to continue attacks on the enemy’s war industries and lines of communication.

Twenty-two missions were flown during September, several of which were highly successful strafing attacks against enemy airfields, rail communications and troop concentrations. Targets ranged over a wide area from Greece to southwestern Poland and northern Italy. The outstanding strafing attack of the month was the attack on the Ecka A/D in Yugoslavia on 8 September. In this attack every one of the thirty-seven planes on the airdrome were destroyed while a neighboring airfield was also attacked and six of the seven enemy planes grounded there were also destroyed. The low-level attack proved to be one of the most successful strafing jobs of its kind ever completed in this theater. The Debreczen A/D, in Hungary, was also attacked in the month of September with a total of fifty-nine enemy planes claimed destroyed.

On 16 October, one flight of the 319th P-51s led by Lt. S.K. Anderson distinguished itself with what is probably the most outstanding and gallant success of its kind in our history. During an escort mission against the Brux O/R in Czechoslovakia, a large force of enemy fighters was observed to the west of the bomber formation. Climbing into the sun, Lt. Anderson led his flight of 4 P-51s in an attack upon the enemy force which consisted of approximately forty-eight Me-109s and FW-190s. In the aerial battle that followed, Lt. Anderson destroyed three enemy fighters probably destroyed another and damaged a fifth fighter while members of his flight destroyed three more. Despite the enemy’s superiority of 12 to 1, the P-51s suffered no losses.

In November, twenty-one missions were completed. Aside from several strafing operations of minimum effort, there was little action. Lt. C.C. Whitmire was shot down while strafing an enemy column in Yugoslavia on 21 November, but returned safely to Italy after a series of adventures with Yugoslavian partisans.

Because of the increasing number of enemy rocket and jet propelled aircraft operating over Germany during December, it became necessary to provide escort for the P-38 reconnaissance planes making daily runs over enemy targets. The jets easily outran any of our aircraft but a flight could cope with their greater speed by making head on passes. In turns, the P-51s easily evaded the jets. Several missions a day became normal SOP and there was much work done in training pilots how to combat the Me-163 and Me-262. On 28 December, the Group had its last big day of 1944. After and escort mission over Kolin and Pardubice, Czechoslovakia, the P-51s went to the deck to strafe railroads and highways as well as two airdromes. Seven enemy planes and twenty-six locomotives were destroyed in these attacks for the loss of one P-51.

The squadron changed commanding officers on 7 December, Major Ralph F. Johnson succeeding Lt. Col. John E. Perry, who was transferred to the XV Fighter Command.

Combat operations and training missions were greatly hampered by weather conditions during the month of January. The squadron participated in a total of 11 combat missions, the majority of which were high-altitude escorts in attacks on oil refineries in Germany and Austria. There were no losses or aerial victories during this period.

At this time the constant battering of the German Armies by Allied forces from all directions and the 30-day furlough plan fostered squadron morale to a new high. One officer and ten enlisted men departed for temporary duty in the States under this new plan. This event highlighted the squadron’s history during the month it completed its second year of overseas duty; however, the awarding of the third "E" flag in four months for maintenance achievement also made the spotlight.

The squadron moved from the Lesina A/D on 2 March to Miramare, a small resort town four miles south of Rimini where the Squadron Headquarters and living area were to be located while operating from the Rimini A/D. Captain E. W. Buckland in the advanced echelon requisitioned a hotel and eleven buildings to be used as sleeping quarters by 319th personnel. It was just like moving from "rags to riches", because never before had our quarters been in a building of this type. After the five days of preparation, on 7 March, the last C-47 transport landed with personnel and equipment. Overnight the new area took on all appearances of a permanent base.

During the month the squadron participated in 33 missions, one of which penetrated to the city of Berlin where escorted heavy bombers attacked the Daimler Benz Tank Works. The mission marked the longest heavy bomber and Mustang flight ever flown over Europe and was the first attempt of the Fifteenth Air Force to attack targets within the German capital. Victories for the month were credited to Captain Voss and Lt. Chamberlain (Me-109s) and F/O Barnes (2 FW-190s). Six 319th pilots were lost to enemy fighters and flak during March.

The movement from Miramare to Mondolfo A/D, the second such move within a 30 day period, constituted the tenth move in the history of the squadron. Despite the move, squadron combat operations reached a new high in April with the squadron participating in 42 missions. Since few strategic targets remained for the Fifteenth Air Force, the bulk of missions flown were combined with tactical operations in direct support of the ground troops. The destruction of a jet-propelled Me-262, the first victory over a jet aircraft within our Group, was credited to the 319th Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Major Johnson, on 18 April. The next day, Lt. Gertin destroyed a FW-190 while slow-timing his airplane over the front lines in Italy.

Day be day news reports showed spectacular events resulting in the apparent collapse of organized German resistance. Each news lecture was attended by more and more personnel. Their hearts began to beat faster with the thought of victory and the trip back home as being a step nearer each day. Finally, we read in the "Stars and Stripes" one day: "It’s All Over Over Here" and we could hardly realize it. Events had moved so swiftly in the smashing defeat of the Swastika State that we were overtaken by surprise even though we could see the end drawing near. With the collapse of Germany, began the break up of the 319th Squadron.

Personnel of the 319th Squadron in their two years of combat operations have been awarded the following medals for aerial achievements and for outstanding individual accomplishments among ground personnel: Distinguished Service Cross – 1, Silver Star – 5, Purple Heart – 9, Distinguished Flying Cross – 66, Legion of Merit – 1, Soldiers Medal – 4, Bronze Stars – 10.

Distinguished Service Cross: Captain S. K. Anderson

Silver Stars: Col. Tirk, Maj. Collins, Lt. Booth, Capt. Voss and Lt. Carbee.

Ground Personnel

Legion of Merit: M/Sgt. Turner

Soldiers Medals: Staff Sergeants Butler and Burdette, and Sergeants MacKay and Johnstone.

Bronze Star: Major L.W. Short 1st Sgt. Shank

Captain E. W. Buckland T/Sgt. Enwall

M/Sgt. Bluntzer T/Sgt. Goldstein

M/Sgt. Lawson S/Sgt. Cronin

M/Sgt/ Pearson Cpl. Anderson

The 319th Squadron also played an important part in the two highly successful fighter sweeps for which the Group was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first of these attacks, 39 July 1943, over southern Sardinia, resulted in the destruction of 21 enemy fighters while the second attack over the Udine area in Italy, on 30 January 1944, resulted in the total destruction of 37 enemy aircraft.

The squadron has also been awarded 10 Battle Participation Stars.